Even for the non-marshmallows among us, the “Veronica Mars” movie, which hits theaters this week (our SXSW review here), being brought back from the dead by a combination of fan activism, creator and cast agitation and Kickstarter-related chutzpah, is at the very least an interesting phenomenon. The long-defunct TV show that gets its day on the big screen with original cast intact is a rare and precious event achieved by only a few, but the possibility is often endlessly bandied around for many for years after the show has ended. One recent example was Joss Whedon‘s “Serenity” whose underwhelming box office despite slavering fan appetites and strong critical notices is perhaps now used as a cautionary tale against this sort of thing. And while, last we heard, the “Arrested Development” movie was still on the table, Netflix would be behind it, like season four, so not super likely it would get a theatrical release.
Of course historically there have been many instances of reboots that have been recast and repackaged into something that may resemble the source series very little. The disastrous Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman “The Avengers” and the horrid live-action “The Flinstones” spring to mind as egregious examples of that problem, while the “Star Trek” reboot and “21 Jump Street,” and even stuff like “The Addams Family” and “The Brady Bunch Movie” show that a start-from-scratch instinct can work well. It got us to thinking about a few TV shows we’d like to see on the big screen—from the point of view of being fans of the original shows, yes, but that alone would simply read like a list of our favorite cancelled shows. So in arriving at this selection of six, we’ve tried to think of shows that we can really see working in a one-off, feature film format, in such a way that you don’t feel cheated that you’ve paid your fifteen bucks to watch something that a few years ago you were getting every week for the price of sitting through the ad breaks.
“Quantum Leap” (1989-1993, 5 seasons, 96 episodes)
Synopsis: Quantum physicist Sam Beckett becomes lost in time following an experiment, and finds himself “leaping” into people, unable to move on until he has righted a wrong. Only ever able to leap within his own lifespan, Sam’s sole companion is the holographic image of his friend and colleague Al, who is trying to guide him home.
Why does it warrant a movie? Brilliantly brought to life by Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell (both Golden Globe winners for the show), Donald P. Bellasario’s brainchild was an endlessly inventive, entertaining and often surprisingly soulful show that, as great an episodic device as it sets up (each show, more or less, was a leap), certainly would have the scope for a bigger take. Time travel is a fertile ground for sci-fi movies after all, (when treated as integral to the narrative and not as a get-out-of-jail-free card, Mr. Abrams), and the witty, occasionally daffy tone of the show could lend itself well to a big-screen popcorn flick, as well as the man-on-a-mission premise. The main potential problem? The last episode, which while ballsy (and divisive to the point that some fans might be jonesing for a compensatory big-screen take) states definitively that “Sam never returned home,” which might discount one obvious plot option for a movie—if we want to stay strictly canon, that is. That said, what does “never” really mean to a time traveler? And the more metaphysical thrust of the ending (it’s heavily hinted that Sam actually meets “God or Time or Fate or whatever” and is his agent) could itself be a pretty big theme to explore. Not to mention the fact that a relaunch would no doubt need to be comprehensively recast, so perhaps, and it kind of pains us to type this, it’s not Sam Beckett at all. And indeed that looked to be the route most likely when Bakula teased that a script was in development (at Comic-Con 2010, though he’s since said he regretted letting that slip and word has gone very quiet). Much as we love its original incarnation, the show’s concept is bigger than its characters, though we would still cheer for the inevitable Bakula/Stockwell cameos.
“Party Down” (2009-2010, 2 seasons, 20 episodes)
Synopsis: A group of unemployed actors, writers and general misfits work for the Party Down catering company in Los Angeles, working glamorous (and not-so-glamorous) events while they wait for their big break.
Why Does It Warrant A Movie? This much-beloved, woefully underwatched (the final episode couldn’t crack 100,000 viewers back in 2010) comedy, created by a dream team including Paul Rudd and “Veronica Mars” mastermind Rob Thomas, has only grown in stature in the four years since it came to an end. Featuring a crack group of comic names who’ve mostly gone on to bigger things since, including Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr and Ken Marino, it had an immediately hooky concept (each episode took place at a different party), and a low-key, foul-mouthed comedic charm leavened with the real pain of broken dreams and disappointment. If it had aired on FX, it would probably still be running today, a la “The League,” but as an early experiment with original programming by Starz (who’ve since found their metier with boobs-and-blood costume dramas like “Spartacus” and “Black Sails”), it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But with the increased star wattage of the cast, a low-budget feature could certainly make sense: the show ended on a decent note, but there were certainly more stories to tell, and there would certainly be ways to frame it to justify the scope of a movie (working at the Vanity Fair Oscars party, enabling A-list cameos, would be an obvious way to go). It’s never going to be a massive hit, but we’d probably rather see them working on something like this than underwhelming comedy “A.C.O.D,” which featured several alumni of the show. There has been talk of a reunion movie for a while, but more recently cast members have been more skeptical—Scott said in an interview last year that he’d rather the series return on Netflix. But if “Veronica Mars” is a hit, maybe Thomas will head to Kickstarter again.
“Deadwood” (2004-2006, 3 seasons, 36 episodes)
Synopsis: During the annexation of the Dakota Territory in the 1870s, Deadwood grows from hitching post to camp to town, where the tensions of the time, like individualism vs. community, lawlessness vs respectability and the evolution of capitalism are exemplified in the adversarial relationship between saloon owner Al Swearengen and Sheriff Seth Bullock.
Why does it warrant a movie? Simple: that cocksucker Al Swearengen. While the textured storytelling and controlled timeframe (each season takes place over a two-week period, with each episode representing a single day), not to mention the epic sweep of its themes and excellent cinematography, could all see it translate quite logically to a bigger format, the real impetus behind a “Deadwood” movie would have to be the brilliant, anachronistically profane antihero, as unforgettably portrayed by Ian McShane. Amid a plethora of terrific performances, his was a character so huge it kind of burst out of the confines of the small screen anyway. Creator David Milch based him on the real-life Swearengen (as he did with characters such as Bullock, Sol Star, Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp etc.) but then let the inspired decision to use modern-day slang in combination with an arcane but recognizably old-timey argot (seriously Shakespearean at times) raise the show’s deliciously theatrical dialogue to a whole other level. Set during such a tumultuous period, there would be no shortage of dramatic real-life incidents to choose from to form the basis for a self-contained plot, and indeed this one came closer than most, with Milch originally being promised two 2-hour TV movies to replace the cancelled fourth season (a deal he’d struck instead of doing a half season). Those scripts were apparently written, but slid off the table between then and now. Whether it was some version of those or something entirely new that made it into our multiplex, we wouldn’t mind, as long as it happens soon: more so than elsewhere on this list, time’s a-ticking as we simply could not imagine any future incarnation working without this exact cast in these exact roles.
“The Prisoner“(1967-1968, 1 season, 17 episodes)
Synopsis: A British secret agent, known only as Number 6, wakes up in a mysterious, eccentric village that he can’t escape from, full of people—notably the ever-changing Number 2—determined to discover why he resigned from his position.
Why Does It Warrant A Movie? The granddaddy of every mind-boggling cult series from “Twin Peaks” to “Lost,” “The Prisoner” remains a pop-cultural touchstone over 45 years after it aired. Created by star Patrick McGoohan in lieu of a fourth series of the show that made him a star, “Danger Man,” it was a cryptic, hugely experimental show, more “Last Year At Marienbad” than “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” with an iconic setting (the Welsh village of Portmerion remains a tourist attraction today), and puzzles that are still being argued over decades later. Each episode would see McGoohan’s Number Six attempt to get to the bottom of the mysterious village and the people who run it, and get away from it, while the various Number Twos attempt to break him, their attempts getting stranger and stranger (there was a body-swap episode late in the series, and another episode that reset the show in the Old West). Part of the genius of the series is that, aside from a few key concepts—The Village, Number Six, Number Two, maybe the bubble-like Rovers—you could have freedom with the concept to do almost anything you like, and as such, it seems primed for a revival. Plus the nature of the show means you could easily tell a standalone story with a grand scope across the running time of a movie. Indeed, there have been attempts: Christopher Nolan was developing a version, penned by “Blade Runner” scribe David Webb Peoples, but dumped it in favor of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Instead, we got an ambitious, starry (Jim Caviezel, Ian McKellen, Ruth Wilson, Hayley Atwell), but ultimately misguided AMC miniseries revival. But if Nolan, or a director of equal talent, revived their interest, something very special could result.
“30 Rock” (2006-2013, 7 seasons, 138 episodes)
Synopsis: Loosely based on creator Tina Fey’s experiences on “Saturday Night Live,” the show followed her alter ego Liz Lemon’s highs and lows as the head writer on NBC show “TGS”, and her relationships with the actors, writers, and particularly with mentor/frequent antagonist Jack Donaghy.
Why does it warrant a movie? Maybe this more of a longshot than some others here, after all, it’s tough for small-screen comedies to make it on the big screen unless they’re “Police Squad,” “Jackass” or an animated show (even “The Simpsons Movie” was disappointing). That said, there are two major things in favor of the idea of bringing Liz, Jack, Tracy, Jenna, Kenneth, Pete et al. back for a film. Firstly: Tina Fey, who has proven, with her bestselling book, hosting stints, and a couple of modest movie hits (“Baby Mama” did ok, while “Date Night” was a hit even if “Admission” tanked) that she can be a draw outside of the confines of a TV show. But more compellingly, “30 Rock” was always a very meta- show, constantly folding back in on itself in a kind of self-referential silliness. For that reason alone we can see it transitioning better than other properties—a movie-based-on-a-TV-show which is about the gang making a movie based on “TGS,” for example? Unlike some of the entries on this list, “30 Rock” felt like it had come to the end of its run as a TV show, and went out on a strong note, so it’s not like we have major unresolved issues that a film could sort out. It’s more that we’d probably enjoy an eye as sharp as Fey’s for the ridiculousness of showbiz being brought to bear on Hollywood and moviemaking specifically, and if we got to hang out with those characters for another ninety minutes while doing that, so much the better. And who is ever going to write this good a part for Alec Baldwin again?
“Terriers” (2010, 1 season, 13 episodes)
Synopsis: Recovering alcoholic ex-cop Hank and his reformed criminal best pal Britt run an unlicensed private detective agency together in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Their investigation into the disappearance of the daughter of an old drinking buddy of Hank’s turns into a sprawling mystery taking in corruption and murder.
Why Does It Warrant A Movie? One the recent TV series cancellations that hit us hardest was “Terriers.” Created by “Ocean’s Eleven” writer Ted Griffin with “The Shield” exec Shawn Ryan and Joss Whedon-collaborator Tim Minear, it seemed relatively unpromising on paper, lacking in big name stars, without an immediate hook, with a deeply botched marketing campaign making it tougher to find an audience. But those who discovered it despite all the above were quickly drawn in. It was an original, characterful and twisty reinvention of the private-eye tale, with the easygoing Californian feel of “The Rockford Files” and Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” but with the dark noir undertones of “Chinatown.” The central performances, by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, were gorgeous, each episode was full of surprises, and the direction (by big names like Craig Brewer, Rian Johnson and Clark Johnson, among others), was top-notch. But the series barely managed half a million viewers for FX and was swiftly cancelled despite strong critical support, however the cult has grown thanks to Netflix and the like. Though the show handled its mix of case-of-the-week and a serialized story beautifully, there’s no reason that Hank and Britt couldn’t take on something bigger—the show was steeped in film noir, and a case of real scope and substance could easily justify a longer runtime, especially with a history of so much big-screen talent involved with the show (go on, Rian Johnson, make it your next project…) There’s been some talk of a potential movie: Ryan mused on the possibility of Kickstarting a “Terriers” movie back in 2012, which seems to have inspired the “Veronica Mars” gang to actually go through with it. Now we know that it can work (box office numbers pending), maybe it’s time to follow through on Ryan’s original suggestion.
So these are six shows that we’d not only love to see unlock the bonus level of a movie, they’re six that we can see making the transition well. But that’s not to say we didn’t consider others—the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” is a good example of one that missed the cut, as are “The Shield” and “Carnivale.” Some perennial favorites, like “The Wire,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “The Sopranos” seem so brilliantly suited to episodic TV that imagining a film version as anything other than a disappointment was hard (though David Chase did once, prior to Gandolfini’s death, moot the possibility of a feature). So now it’s over to you: what show was cancelled too soon, what show left lingering unanswered questions that need another 90-120 minutes to address, and what characters can you see being strong enough to make the hordes leave the sofa, get in the car and fork over their hard-earneds to watch again? Tell us below.